playing with fire


I try to operate a sober house, but it depends on the cooperation of the young men who live here. I am no jailer. Kids do what they themselves decide to do. If a guy buys liquor with his own money, that’s his thing. But Derek doesn’t respect my desire to run a sober house. And when Derek drinks, his behavior becomes irrational and sometimes violent.

It all began on Sunday when my son Henry called, and Derek immediately began interrupting with loud talk that seemed designed to interfere with the conversation. Henry and I cut off our phone call after only 10 minutes, and Derek immediately moved on to threatening me with a handgun we keep on hand for snakes, a cane, a hatchet, and a ceremonial sword. He became so physically aggressive, I made good on a threat I’d made a week before (when he was also drinking), and called 911 for assistance.

Derek called his wife, and immediately calmed down. “I can’t kill him?” he asked her, and she obviously didn’t take him seriously. “Don’t bother me with this shit,” I heard her say.

I tried calling 911 again to cancel the earlier call for assistance, but was told the sheriff’s deputy was already on his way; anyway, I was told, 911 calls cannot be cancelled. When the deputy arrived, Derek was on his best behavior. After a long time while the deputy talked on the radio with his superiors, the deputy said that because we were not related, this did not qualify as “domestic violence” and that he was taking neither of us in—and not to call again except “when one of us kills the other, then call us and we’ll clean up the mess.”

After the deputy’s visit, I drove the handgun down to my neighbors’ for safekeeping. It was then that I learned from Aliana and Bill that the whole neighborhood had been alerted to the goings-on at Estrella Vista. Karen, my housekeeper, had seen the deputy’s vehicle driving up our road and had called out of concern. Unbeknownst to me, an ambulance had been dispatched and was waiting at the entrance to our road. Another neighbor had called to say she was praying for me. So much for maintaining a low profile. Before leaving their house, Aliana and Bill had asked me to call them for assistance if it were needed.

By the time I returned home, Derek was asleep on the floor. I hoped he would just sleep it off.

However, when he awoke I was sorely disappointed. I took the deputy’s comment as a warning against further escalation of the incident; but Derek took it as a challenge—permission, even—to take things further. He laughed maniacally. He said this was “proof” that nobody liked me, that no one would miss me if I were to die. Derek said my calling 911 was a great betrayal because his name is now in the system in Texas. He said that he had sent Alex out here to prove that that nobody could be as good as I claimed to be. He was listening to violent rap music on his earphones. The drinking continued as did the verbal and physical abuse. There was broken furniture that my mother had given me. Derek severed a cord and disabled the phone. I sustained several minor injuries, and drove down to the neighbors a second time, where we disabled the truck and I spent the night.

The next day, Monday, Derek walked down to my neighbors’ house where Aliana was treating and documenting my injuries. I told Derek I would have the truck back by 7:30 am so he could drive himself to work.

After Derek left for work, I gathered together all his possessions, packed them into two pieces of luggage and three plastic bags, and I rode down to Terlingua with Bill. We went to the auto repair shop where Derek was working. Here’s how it went: “There are two hundred dollars in this box. These are all your clothes. I’m here to get your key (to the truck). I don’t want you to live at my house anymore.”

Bill stood by watching, and Derek didn’t seem surprised by what I’d said, only that I had said it. Maybe there’ll be some fallout later, but it was short and sweet on Monday. I consider it all part of my education. I kept reminding myself: this is how I must pay my dues.
I slept the remainder of the day Monday, and then wrote to the Dutch producer at night to tell her what had happened. I figured that Derek’s departure would probably torpedo the July interview, but after checking in with her boss, she was told that plans for the interview would continue. “It is reality,” she said in an email. I will be going with the Dutch crew to meet three of the inmates for the first time at the Clemens unit, near Houston, whom I support. I learned on Tuesday they had all signed releases to be interviewed.
Lone Heron has been calling me two or three times a day. She thinks I am “playing with fire” being a person untrained in psychology and dealing with the products of a prison system which releases such untreated, damaged, and angry individuals into society. I just don’t know yet.
I still believe that treating people with respect, that giving them a chance to succeed, that giving them total freedom will, in combination, work wonders. I am hoping the guys at Clemens will convince me this is not all just an idealistic pipe-dream. I am hoping they will prove they know what it takes to go straight.

19 Responses to “playing with fire”

  1. 1 elizinvt
    June 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Recently, Dan, there was a news report last year of Clemens Unit officers being accused of sexually assaulting inmates. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2PpR6CDF48. Don’t get suckered or impressed by good behavior on their part. Lone Heron makes a point – if you play with fire, you need a fire extinguisher handy. Have a speedy recovery, and don’t lose your courage, but Be Careful. Your readers will be keeping you in their thoughts.

  2. 2 Ronnie Savill
    June 15, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Dan I was shocked when I read this. I thought Derek was different than that. That’s going purely by the way you described him. I thought he was mature sensible remorseful thoughtful. That’s from the way you described him.

    My second thought is after reading that email is: you should really give up before you become a lead item on the news and not in a good way.

    I reckon you might need to reevaluate things in the light of events you described.

    Look after yourself.


    Sent from my iPhone


    • June 15, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      Believe me, I am sorry it has come to this. As you so rightly observed, there are a lot of good things about Derek, but he has his demons, too. I have high hopes that he will get his life straightened out, but I am unwilling to be his punching bag when he lapses.

      As for giving up, I am unwilling to do that now. I am working with too small a universe of data and experience. I am an old man and my wife is dead. Taking the risks I take is a worthy thing… and I can do it. Someone’s got to do it, and I’m willing to try.

  3. 4 john
    June 15, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Sorry you’re having to go through this abuse. Helping these people is still a worthy endeavor!

  4. 5 SofiaAmtis
    June 15, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    I’m sorry to hear this Dant, but at this point I think there is no hope for the brothers King. Alex is a disaster and now Derek. so sad.
    Stay strong.
    You are a good man

  5. 6 Donald G.
    June 15, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Sad news Dan,
    I can’t get out of my head how in some way the King brothers still influence each other to do bad things and I think Alex is still the “master mind” who manipulates Derek.

  6. 7 Hat Bailey
    June 15, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Like you Dan, I am not a control freak. I love being free and want to grant others the same freedom that I desire for myself. However, young people with self destructive self punishing alters integrated into themselves due to an abusive past in particular need rules and guidelines that are clearly understood. Most of them will secretly welcome such guidelines and discipline and interpret it as caring. When drinking causes negative changes in behavior it cannot be tolerated, and that should be made clear. You can make it plain that they are free to drink as much alcohol, bought with their own money as they like, but if they do they are not going to be able to live at your house. Never accept abusive behavior. I think you did the right thing. It had to be a lesson to Derek. On some level he understands what has happened, but he is addicted to what is “normal” for him. People do heal but the process is sometimes lengthy. Don’t beat yourself up because of a supposed “failure” because there is no such thing for the committed person.

  7. 8 matt
    June 16, 2016 at 4:46 am

    You offer a gift, Dan, the vision of Estrella Vista; some will accept your gift and others will not. Sadly, it will be mostly those with nowhere else to go, no family support, and maybe therefore the most troubled, who will accept your gift . . . and by their nature, by their circumstances, and by the damage done to them, they are the ones who will struggle the hardest to find their way in life.

  8. 9 Willow54
    June 16, 2016 at 11:15 am

    I was reminded while reading this, of a statement made to me in class many years ago by my erstwhile chemistry teacher. He said, if you mix volatile elements together you’re gonna get an explosion.

    Like other commentators I am saddened at the way things have turned out with you and the King brothers, and I’m sure if you could wave a magic wand and make things right, you would have done so by now, but we all know the world doesn’t work like that so all you can do is dust yourself off and take stock, then decide where you go from here, but like others have said, don’t stop. Someone has to do what you do.

  9. 10 Allan Yates
    June 17, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    The question that comes to my mind, is that are they the product of the system, or part of their original nature. And if the latter, could a better system have changed this.

    • June 17, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Good question, but I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. Obviously, both of the boys were dysfunctional before the original crime… but why? Does abandonment by their parents explain it? I just don’t know. In any event, a better system would have treated them and not taught them that violence offers an answer.

  10. 12 Paul D.
    June 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Well, You were like his second father and he tried to “Hurt” you. Think about it…

  11. 14 Anonymous
    June 21, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    I think you should look into DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). You’re dealing with people that have gone through a lot of shit. DBT provides skills, tools, and guidelines to make wise choices so that people don’t get in their own way. I doubt Derek wanted to mess his life up and I think he could be playing out something having to do with his own upbringing (will his father figure “save” him, how far can he push boundaries/ behavior, any other scenario, etc). What you are saying about free will is nice and I also think it could help if you can actually throw some information to these people. Surely there’s emotional stuff going on and you’d be giving them tools to handle it. DBT groups have structure built in– if members misbehave, skip therapy, or otherwise break rules they can be suspended or kicked out of group. Whether you want to implement that structure/ those consequences is of course up to you. Regardless of that, I think it could help just to have this knowledge in your back pocket. In the same way that you need tools to build a dwelling, one needs to know what to do to manage emotions and relationships. I put my name as Anonymous but used a real email address and I can reply to any replies you make.

  12. 15 Alla
    July 7, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    I am inspired by your blog, your mission and your story. I have empathy for Derek and even his actions. I also know it is your right to live free from toxicity and harm. I hope for Derek’s sake that he can find the grace within himself to amend his behavior and come back to you. I am heartened that you promise not to give up on a seemingly impossible mission. I have subscribed to your blog and I look forward to more entries from you.

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